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Muslim Student Union Holds Mental Health Awareness Week

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UCI’s Muslim Student Union (MSU) held its annual Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4. The week was organized to educate students on mental health through an Islamic lens and provide a week of relief from the stress of being a university student. 

The theme for this year’s MHAW was “Calming the Qalb,” or calming the heart.

This year, MHAW included four events. The first event was a self-compassion workshop conducted by Yasmin Irfani, the program manager of counseling services at the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief. The event centered around self-kindness, dealing with anxiety, setting boundaries and more. One of Irfani’s activities had attendees pair up to practice setting boundaries. One partner made a request, and the other had to say “no” every time.

Second was “Trees + Teas,” where attendees had the opportunity to plant flowers, paint flower pots and gain insight into the connections between nature, mental health and Islam. Participants could take the pledge for The Bandana Project, a campaign that focuses on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. For the “Teas” part of the event, attendees took a trip to Cha For Tea at University Town Center for another mental health break.

The third event, “Fajr, Food + Friends,” was held at Crystal Cove Beach on Feb. 3. Fajr is one of the five daily prayers for Muslims, and it is performed before sunrise. Attendees prayed in a congregation and listened to a short talk given by UCI alumnus Shaykh Mustafa Umar, the Senior Religious Director of the Islamic Center of Irvine. The event also included a hike on the beach.

The fourth and final event was “Calming the Qalb + Fighting the Stigma” with Ustadh Tabari Abdul-Zahir, a CA Registered Alcohol and Drug Technician and therapist who works with Muslims and the justice-impacted in the areas of mental health and substance abuse. Held on Feb. 4 at the Islamic Center of Irvine, attendees painted anything they felt calmed their “qalb,” their heart. Paintings ranged from landscapes to chickens. 

After the painting session, Zahir gave a lecture on the purification of the heart and destigmatizing mental health in the Muslim community. The talk addressed addiction, the erosion of Muslim identity in youth and the essential history of counseling in Islam.

For MSU Public Relations Chair and fourth-year psychological sciences major Maryam Jibaly, maintaining mental health is a key aspect of being Muslim.

“Muslims are so strongly supported in their religion to seek and achieve mental wellness,” Jibaly said. “Mental health in an Islamic framework means having a stronger relationship with my Creator due to the holistic healing habits I have built and learned from my religion.” 

The Quran is the holy text that Muslims consider the word of God and their guidebook for life. For Jibaly, the status of mental health in Islam is explicitly stated in the text.   

“Allah says … ‘Those who have believed and whose hearts are comforted by the remembrance of Allah,” Jibaly said, referencing verse 13:28 of the Quran. “‘Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah do hearts find comfort and contentment’. 

Jibaly finds the importance given to “the heart” in Islam as a testament to the religion’s emphasis on mental health that informs MSU’s annual MHAW. She says, “As we learned in MHAW, our hearts are a symbol of our physical, spiritual, and mental wellness.” 

Siraj Bajwa is an Opinion Intern for the winter 2023 quarter. He can be reached at sirajb@uci.edu.